Jainism is a religion that originated in India around the same time as Buddhism, but no one is completely sure.  There are about 5 million followers of Jainism, mostly living in India.  Jains do not believe in an all-powerful supreme being or creator, but rather in a universe of scientific laws. Mahavira was a man that lived during the time of the Buddha—he was also a prince that gave up everything to find spiritual understanding.  He was very influential and helped to make the religion what it is today. 

The main goal of Jainism is to reach Moksha or ending the cycle of birth-death-rebirth.  Moksha is achieved by reaching enlightenment or what Jains call “God knowledge”.  The people who have reached Moksha are called Tirthankaras.  Jains believe karma directs our reincarnation and also affects our body.  Jains believe in the true equality of ALL life with a major emphasis on non-violence.  Jains believe ALL souls, including ALL plants and animals, are equal because they all possess the potential of being freed and attaining Moksha.  It is a core belief to conquer all temptations and inner enemies such as anger, greed and pride by practicing non-attachment with the material world and by living a peacefully disciplined lifestyle.

Compassion for all life, human and non-human, is important to Jainism. Human life is viewed as a rare opportunity for the soul to reach enlightenment and therefore Moksha, so to kill any person, no matter what crime he may have committed, is considered absolutely unacceptable.  In fact, some monks sweep the ground in front of themselves to make sure they don’t step on an insect.  It is the only religion that requires monks AND followers to be vegetarian.   The Jain diet excludes most root vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and garlic because eating these foods kills the entire plant.  They would prefer foods like apples because eating an apple doesn’t kill the tree.